“Most of our experience, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories.”—Daniel Pink

Reading Stories

I wouldn’t be the first one to posit that human beings are “born story tellers.” At Randolph Elementary this morning, I was first up to read to RES students some books before T.V. personality Julie Bragg would descend upon Randolph to do the same. What held the students in their attentive, quiet mood as they sat at my red socked feet? It was the story. Even stories they had heard before. It’s just not the kids, either! We as adults love good stories.

Right-Brain Stuff

Story-writing, and story-telling it turns out are significant right-brained pursuits, according to author Daniel Pink. In his book A Whole New Mind, Pink outlines how important storytelling is to business. Employees at 3M, the World Bank, NASA, and Xerox have begun teaching their employees “storytelling techniques.” 10 years ago such a pursuit would have been laughed-off by CEOs. Stories are helping businesses in a number of ways, from marketing, to building technical support documents.

Stories help us make what Pink calls high touch connections. “High touch” experiences tap into our emotions and our aesthetic sensibilities. Today at Columbia’s medical school, doctors in training now take a seminar in narrative medicine alongside their classes in the hard sciences. A movement begun in 2001 has emphasized doctors listen to patient stories. “Stories—that’s how people make sense of what’s happening to them when they get sick,” says Dr. Howard Brody, a family practice physician.

In fact, in a study where medical students were asked to keep 2 parallel charts on patients (one with quantitative data like blood pressure readings and medication amounts, the other with the patient’s story and how their treatment affected them), the doctors maintained better relationships with the patients than those that kept only the standard chart.

“Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn’t run through the left side of the brain,” writes Pink. “We can see this yearning for self-knowledge through stories in many places.” He cites scrapbooks, webpages, and blogs as just a few examples. “The conceptual age can remind us what has always been true but rarely been acted upon—that we must listen to each other’s stories and that we are each the authors of our own lives.”

Turn on the Electricity

Stories are different than mere facts, because they include context and many times, an emotional component. e-Portfolio expert Dr. Helen Barrett considers student portfolios a type of story— “Digital Stories of Deep Learning.” And the “digital storytelling movement” promotes us telling stories through richer forms of media. Digital storytelling is the communication of your story through moving pictures, your voice, and even music.

Author and education consultant David Warlick often tells teachers that numbers tell stories. His agenda of re-defining literacy for a digital age includes the telling of stories using numbers. Not the 2 or 3 numbers that we ask students to practice manipulating in an arithmetic problem, but the thousands and thousands of numbers found in data sets found online. His dog and pony demonstration takes earthquake data over the course of a year or two, plugged into Microsoft Excel. With a few clicks and dialog boxes later, he’ll show you a “map” of the Earth’s plates, defined for us in a longitudinal graph. “These numbers tell a story,” he’ll whisper to you, in his mildly Southern accent.

Stories are the Bomb!

Whether you take your stories to spreadsheets like Warlick, online like Helen Barrett, or through the iMovie machine, technology can help you tell and expose captivating stories. The books I read at Randolph Elementary this morning reminded me too that stories can be pretty low tech, yet still high touch, and make a big impact. As we break next week, think about some stories that are worth telling in your classroom, to your families, and those in the community. It would be human nature!

Thanks for reading!


The Power of Story

Next Week

In case you want an extra-dose of education technology reading over Spring Break, here are a few titles I recommend:

  1. -Teaching the iKid

  2. -Adopt and Adapt

  3. -Stop Integrating Technology

  4. -Is it Okay to be a Technology Illiterate Teacher?

  5. -Teens and Social Networks

  6. -Amateur Education